Local authorities and institutions have a strategic role to play in promoting social cohesion. In this blog, we will use the example of a number of innovative projects to discuss possible measures to promote social cohesion.
Many smaller and larger steps are needed to safeguard social cohesion. Below, we will list some key actions local authorities and institutions can take that the EFUS team has deduced from the best practices submitted in the context of the Just and Safer Cities for All project, resulting from particularly effective measures as well as challenges the initiatives had to overcome. The recommendations concern the areas of activity defined in the blog post “European Initiatives to Promote Social Cohesion”: Fostering Knowledge, Raising Awareness, Empowerment, Targeted Prevention, Victim Support, and Transversal Strategy.
Assuming the role model function
By taking a firm stance against any incidents of violence and discrimination, local/ regional officials can be role models in the fight against hate and intolerance. By putting the issue of discriminatory violence on the agenda on all levels, and leading preventive networks, they contribute to raising awareness as well as to an affirmation of the importance of inclusion for a peaceful coexistence.
The Berlin State Office for Equal Treatment and Against Discrimination for example has developed an action plan to fight homophobia and transphobia. Its target group is the whole population; awareness is increased for instance in campaigns and seminars where teachers and pupils are informed and made aware of the issues at stake. In addition, the City of Berlin has created a contact point for victims of violence against LGTB persons.
Improving knowledge on group-specific violence
In order to be able to counter and prevent violence efficiently, we need to know about the forms, incidence, causes, dynamics, and effects of group-specific, discriminatory violence. Local/ regional authorities can contribute by e.g. regularly conducting security audits and closely monitoring developments, or by helping fund initiatives like the Austrian organisation ZARA – Civil Courage and Anti-Racism Work (ZARA – Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit). In their annual racism report, ZARA not only document incidents but also analyse the contexts in which violence takes place, and highlight trends. This knowledge is also spread through anti-racism workshops, video clips, campaigns, information material, newsletters and similar vectors. Beyond that, ZARA has a (legal) counselling service, which contributes to the empowerment of victims.
Building cooperations and networks
Local/ regional authorities and institutions can promote social cohesion by building cooperations and networks that can together confront the complex issue of group-specific violence. The improvement of relations between law enforcement and vulnerable groups, the promotion of measures in schools to counter prejudice at an early stage, the training of local media representatives, the funding of victim protection institutions are only a few examples of potential areas of action.
The Mannheimer Bündnis für ein Zusammenleben in Vielfalt (Coalition for Diversity in Communal Life in the City of Mannheim) stands for a broad alliance of stakeholders from civil society as well as representatives and organisations from business, politics, and the administration, which is coordinated by the Department for Integration of the City Council. The basic values for this cooperation are laid down in the Mannheim Declaration for Diversity in Communal Life, which has been signed by many stakeholders. The platform essentially provides an exchange of knowledge and experience between the involved parties. So far, it has also managed to implement 20 joint projects.
Such measures create an awareness of the heterogeneous composition of our societies and the diverse forms of discrimination and exclusion prevailing in them. But they also contribute to increasing trust in democratic structures and institutions as local politics and administrations are seen to assume responsibility for maintaining social cohesion.
More information on the initiatives and projects we have mentioned, and many more, is available in the EFUS-published handbook Preventing Discriminatory Violence and the Local Level: Practices and Recommendations (2017), as well as on the EFUS website.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS’
Helga Amesberger and Birgitt Haller are senior researchers at the Institute of Conflict Research in Vienna which is partner of the CPD cluster. Research on integration/ social inclusion and on prejudice is among the institute’s main fields of activities.